Several months ago, my friend Katie mentioned in passing Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, a book I think she’d read in seminary. Somehow, despite the somewhat dry name and dated cover, I was intrigued, committing the title to memory.
If Christian non-fiction sounds at all interesting to you, I recommend Making Room wholeheartedly! I’ve recently been mulling over ways relationships can, and should, deliberately demonstrate the Lord’s love for us, which made the book all the more relevant and meaningful to me.
Union University’s David Gushee captures the book well in his initial review:
The biblical demand for hospitality, Pohl shows, is clear in both Old and New Testaments. The people of God are aliens and strangers whom God has welcomed into the “household of faith.” In turn, God’s people are to “make room” for the stranger, not only in the community of faith but also in their own personal households. This is the biblical meaning of hospitality-making room for the stranger, especially those in most acute need. Such care must not be reduced to mere social entertaining nor may it be self-interested and reciprocal; instead, biblical hospitality reaches out to the abject and lowly and expects nothing in return. Hospitality is not optional, nor should it be understood as a rare spiritual gift; instead, it is a normative biblical practice that is learned by doing it.
Hospitality is implicitly subversive in the way it shatters social boundaries, especially those boundaries enforced by table fellowship. When we eat with the lowly and welcome strangers and “sinners” to our table, we topple social expectations and bear witness to the kind of love God has for all his creatures. It is not coincidental that Jesus perhaps most scandalized his critics in his practice of table fellowship. “He eats with tax collectors and sinners”-this was not a compliment. And it was precisely the radical nature of Christian hospitality, Pohl shows, that characterized the early church, helped spread the Gospel, and healed the dramatic social barriers that initially confronted the church as the Gospel permeated the Greco-Roman world.
The connection between hospitality and Jesus is indeed rich and mysterious. As Pohl shows, in New Testament perspective Jesus is simultaneously guest, host, and meal. He is guest whenever we welcome and care for the stranger and the broken (Mt. 25:31-46). He is host, for example, when he hosts the Last Supper, during which “we … celebrate the reconciliation and relationship available to us because of [Jesus’] sacrifice and through his hospitality” (p.30)-and when he will host the Great Supper in the Kingdom. And he himself, as our paschal sacrifice, is the meal we eat, not only in Communion but in ongoing Christian experience as we feed on his life to nourish our own.
I especially appreciated Pohl’s definition of hospitality, which rediscovers its historical roots. When we do consider hospitality outside the home, we think of hospitality as providing a service: Logging volunteer hours at a homeless shelter, maybe, or serving lasagna in a food line at a soup kitchen. But in this paternalistic framework, I see myself as the one with something to offer, the one deserving of respect.
Instead, as Pohl explains, “hospitality involves sharing your life and sharing in the lives of others, strangers are not first defined by their need. Lives and resources are much more complexly intertwined, and roles are much less predictable. Respect is sustained in the relationships in two related ways—by recognizing the gifts that guests bring to the relationship and by recognizing the neediness of the hosts” (72).